We all should really know by now that, at least in Hollywood’s own mental frame of reference, if you’re stranded somewhere (whether on Earth’s terra firma or on another planet deep in space) and you’re not an American, no one gives a shit. Sorry to break it to you, darling, but you might as well muster all that survival instincts as no one will come and rescue you from the depths of your own solitary suffering. But if you happen to be an American citizen, hooray for you! Fret not and chill out, as help shall come. Especially if you’re Matt Damon, then you can be King of the Great American Rescue Mission.[divider]+[/divider]
While millions of people die on Earth from war and famine or any crisis people go through without getting any help whatsoever, Hollywood has yet again made a movie about a world focusing its brainpower to pick up an American stranded on Mars and make it totally seem fine and even feel triumphant because, well, America.[divider]+[/divider]
Once before, Hollywood has dispatched a Tom Hanks-fronted army of soldiers to save Damon’s sacred butt from the Nazis in occupied France in Saving Private Ryan, and recently sent Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway through a wormhole, across galaxies, to sort-of rescue Damon from eternal space slumber in Interstellar. And since the studios believe we haven’t had enough of seeing Damon being rescued, the moneyed gods of Hollywood has funded The Martian, Andy Weir’s bestselling outer-space adventure, and recruited Ridley Scott to give us an extra-special variation of Matt Damon’s onscreen tribulation and subsequent salvation, complete with a bonus NASA brochure for posterity.
Despite the nagging, if not misanthropic, matter of fact that while millions of people die on Earth from war and famine or any crisis people go through without getting any help whatsoever, Hollywood has yet again made a movie about a world (here, mostly America and China) focusing its brainpower to pick up an American stranded on Mars and make it totally seem fine and even feel triumphant because, well, America. Sorry, Syria. Hollywood won’t make a movie about you and your woes. You’ll have to put up with The Martian for now. It’s a feel-good movie that’ll make you think about science and forget about your third-world problems.
At least The Martian makes the entire world believe that nothing else matters on Earth when there’s someone out there stranded on Mars. It works like a Survival Guidebook for all those with Martian austronautical ambitions, which consists of roughly (probably) less than 0.000009% of the world’s population. And not even all of them gets the chance of being stuck on Mars with potatoes, so it’s like sooo niche.
The Martian‘s central protagonist gets marooned on the red planet by the silica storm from Prometheus, and decides he’s bereft of any choice other than to be like Tom Hanks in Cast Away except, you know, on Mars. So with all the crowd-pleasing good humour available on the desolate planet, he gathers his shit together and makes science fun, subsequently rendering your science schoolteacher look outrageously dull by comparison. Here, you’d learn to plant potatoes with your own excrement and produce water from burning hydrazine without nodding off into boredom because Matt Damon has boyish charms which your professors clearly don’t. Most of this are lectured through a huge Hollywood montage with added disco tracks from Abba, David Bowie and Gloria Gaynor. So yeah, Ridley Scott learns not take himself too seriously this time around and delivers his most light-hearted and entertaining film in years.
Too bad for him, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar have recently recalibrated mainstream sci-fi with thoughtful ambitions and innovative visuals, so Scott is left to deal with little originality left in the moviemaking arena and wrestle with a tonal dilemma whether to be funny or self-serious. Any attempt at danger or mortality is always leavened by wisecracks and jokes, ending up unable to considerably fathom the material’s existential conflict. That Watney is one of those “half-glass full” optimists and that it doesn’t matter what shitstorm Mars will bring upon him, he’ll survive because this is a Hollywood film through and through.
Even if there’s an entire boardroom of NASA honchos sweating their brain cells, spinning the media and the world’s attention, and the gorgeous Jessica Chastain heading up a rescue mission (that woman can do no wrong, mind), Mars’ Most Worthy will emerge victorious because of perfectly calculated science and finely calibrated deux ex machinas, while Waterloo plays on the jukebox. And that’s fine, because sometimes in life, we need a brand of entertainment like this. We need science that works. We need professionals to work together to explore, or save someone out there. Smart people who can crack a joke even at the darkest of situations and in the most hostile of environments. We can’t all be too cynical or too emotional. Movies like this celebrate the triumph of man’s will to survive without having to preach or be sentimental about it. Let’s not forget, no one dies in a Hollywood movie to the tune of ABBA. No one.